A Conductor Is Not A Policeman…Or A Circus Clown

Kevin_Purcell

Photo_Simon Schluter

In the immortal words of Neil Diamond, ‘hello again!’

So what has been happening?  Recording sessions, concerts, a new musical to write, a previous musical to revise, a TV series demystifying Opera….the list goes on.

But we’re not here today for that update, although it is coming down the pipeline soon.

Today’s small topic is about ‘What you are doing is not conducting, and would you please stop referring to it as such when you are being nothing more than a policeman!’  OK, it’s a long title, but it represents the core perspective of this post.  Yes, you’re right, something is bugging me and it is this: Continue Reading →

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Recordings in June and July

I have had remarkably little time in the last month, other than to keep my head above that euphemistically imaginary line labelled ‘Drowning’.  I have started to consider how much music can one conductor keep in his/her head at any one time.  Without doubt, I have discovered my limit!

This month sees the culmination of two recording projects, for release in 2017, that have been long in the planning and about to be short in the execution.

The first of these projects is the new CD of the music of contemporary American composer, Nan Schwartz to be recorded at the marvellous Synchron Stage facility in Vienna. The original Synchronhalle was built in the 1940s, adjacent to Rosenhügel-Filmstudios as part of “Film City Vienna”. In the 1960s, eminent classical artists such as Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin, Sviatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich used the halle for some of their now-legendary recordings.

Nan Schwartz

Nan Schwartz

Nan Schwartz comes from a family musical pedigree that is astounding, yet simultaneously defining in the emergence of her own unique musical voice in Amercian Music. Contrary to the availability of her Jazz arrangements, television and film music on records and CDs, the lack of available commercial recordings of Nan’s concert music is a major oversight – one that is about to be corrected.

Her family legacy includes a father who played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and performed on nearly every Frank Sinatra recording, and a mother who performed such chart-topping hits as “Chicago” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for musical legend Tommy Dorsey before going on to work as a studio singer for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Henry Mancini, and Sonny and Cher, among others.

With a record 7 Emmy nominations, a Grammy win for her elegant and sophisticated arrangement of “Here’s That Rainy Day” for Natalie Cole, two 2014 Grammy nominations (Gianmarco & Amy Dickson), and a 2013 Grammy nomination (The London Symphony Orchestra) Nan’s melodic, harmonically-rich music, is a perfect vehicle for symphony orchestras to peform.  No doubt you will start to see her name on orchestra concert programs in the near future.

The second project is the recording of Brenton Broadstock’s concerto for orchestra, Made in Heaven, that I premiered with the Australian Discovery Orchestra two weeks ago in one of their live-streamed Internet concerts.  This is a marvellous piece and a wonderful homage to ‘Kind of Blue’, the iconic Jazz album of 1959 from Miles Davis.  It is incredible how this large-scale work (for a very large orchestra) captures the heart and soul of this Jazz masterpiece without ever using a single melody from any tune on the record – it’s like a classical music counterpart to the five tunes that make up the album.

Made in Heaven will be recorded in Bratislava in early July.

More soon,

Kevin

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The Demise of DG’s Sinfini Platform: From Critic To Convert

Sinfini_Music_LogoIt surprised me a little that the demise of UMG’s entry-level platform to Classical Music – SINFINI –  caused hardly a ripple when it was announced in December 2015 its activities would be wound down.

In fact so little a ripple was created, I missed the announcement altogether.

When Sinfini launched in 2012; created by outgoing UMG Chairman and Chief Executive Max Hole, I was highly critical of the entire enterprise being in agreement with music critic Igor Toronyi-Lalic’s view of Sinfini’s “ingratiating tweeness”.  I have since changed my mind.

The Classical Music business is a very poor business indeed. It suffers unheralded ignominies by its gatekeepers – the few remaining multinational record companies – because of its inability to make them vast revenues quickly.  Classical music product is extremely expensive to make (I know!); takes months or even years to plan and execute, only to be ever so quickly consigned to the 50% off ‘Sale’ bin ( if you remember when there were actual record stores?)

If there are real heroes in this ugly business, it is the niche, independent boutique record companies that are keeping the patient alive (if only barely).  But, the unpalatable truth is that the record companies simply don’t care because of the sheer size of their legacy and back catalog of classical music already recorded able to be repackaged and re-issued, ad infinitum, in any applicable technical format of the day.

What has this to do with Sinfini? Continue Reading →

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If You Listen Very Carefully….

In this informative discussion about ‘Music Director Searches’ for orchestras organised by the Conductors Guild (of which I am a Board member for purposes of disclosure) I was most impressed by comments offered by Henry Fogel.  Mr. Fogel is Dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Between 2003-2008, Mr. Fogel was President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras.  In fact his list of professional accomplishments is extensive.

Mr. Fogel (and his son Karl) also run a website called HenrysRecords.org which is one of the most wonderful resources for classical music recordings available anywhere on the Internet.

The disclosure statement is important as the Conductors Guild is currently developing a new handbook on this specific topic – and one that presents quite contrary views to an extant document published by the League of American Orchestras.

This little Google Hangout online seminar has particulary good information for younger orchestral conductors trying to make the first big leap to a music director role – an issue specifically addressed by Mr. Fogel on several occasions.  The information from all participants in this seminar, including both Diane Wittry and Gabriel Lefkowitz, is honest and generally well-considered.

My only concern in this presentation is the rather limited understanding of the place and inclusion of contemporary composers in the orchestral repertoire and the somewhat unhelpful antagonism toward some types of contemporary orchestral music as expressed by several of the participants.  This topic might have better been avoided frankly, if only for the reason that the sentiments expressed tend to reinforce the outmoded and ill-informed attitudes commonly heard by many orchestra artistic administrative personnel.  It’s the classic chicken or the egg scenario.  Since I have written extensively on this in the past, I won’t mount my soapbox again here.

Also, pre-announcement to conclude today’s post:  Mark your calendars for the Australian Discovery Orchestra’s opening 2017-17 season concert on May 29, streamed live from the ADO website.

From late April also check out our 3D interactive environment where you can explore the world of the music we are presenting in this concert event.

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Kurt Masur and Pierre Boulez

Kurt_MasurAfter my diatribe the day before yesterday about the situation at ENO, I felt it was necessary to write something utterly positive. What could be positive about the passing of two great maestri you ask? Well what about reminiscences from long-serving and ex-orchestral musicians in the New York Philharmonic about both these illustrious conductors. Fortunately AFM’s Local 802 here in New York posts its magazine online. You can read the Reminiscenes article here.

But not only that, I would like to point out one paragraph in the article from long-serving double-bassist in the NYPhil., Orin O’Brien.  And I reprint it here for good measure:

“I would like to put in a word here for all orchestral musicians everywhere: it has been fashionable for music critics to write that “such-and-such an orchestra either likes or dislikes a conductor.” No attitude could be more wrongly portrayed. Every professional musician I have ever known has wished to collaborate with the kind of conductor exemplified by a Kleiber or a Bernstein, who allowed an orchestra to play its best. This means that each player, giving all that is possible to be his or her absolute best in every minute of a rehearsal or concert, is playing for the music, for the audience and for the conductor. I have never known any musician to want anything but to play beautifully, to serve the composer most of all. The miracle (which sometimes occurs at a rehearsal, not only at a concert) of a memorable flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon or horn solo, the delicate shimmer of a pianissimo cymbal, or a concertmaster’s tender arpeggio – those are precious, shared, ideal moments that form the character of an orchestra.”

You want Ms. O’Brien playing for you everyday if you conduct an orchestra!

More soon,

Kevin

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Wait, There is Something Really Wrong With This…..

Cressida_Pollock

Picture by Geoff Pugh

This one comes way from left field.  On the day that I read that Maestro Mark Wigglesworth has resigned as Music Director of ENO, I also read this:

ENO head Cressida Pollock’s exclusive manifesto to save her company: ‘I can’t allow it to fail’

Umm, I’ve actually read this thrice.  The first time, I thought I must be in need of more coffee and be mis-reading the context of the piece; the second time made me realise that this is a volatile and questionably dubious position for Cressida Pollock to take – let alone publicly address – and after reading it a third time, I was shaking my head in wonder over its poor timing and the grasping nature of the ideas expressed.

Before I dissect this article, just let me say, that based on what I have read over the last year about the shenanigans at ENO, I actually like Ms. Pollock’s insights and interpretation of the challenges being faced by London’s alternate choice Opera organisation.  But there are a few alarm bells here worthy of interrogation.  Maybe Ms. Pollock wants to raise them?  If so, she has, at the very least, gained my attention.  My analysis here is unquestionably critical.  I think the piece, no doubt for all its best intentions, is severely misjudged.

Firstly, nothing is too big to fail and ENO adopting an imperious position as to its unassailability is contentious at the very least.  Because you don’t want something to happen, doesn’t make it an assured outcome.  Secondly, it’s not a question as to whether it is easy to read headlines and be dismayed for the future of Opera – Opera is in very serious trouble!  It’s in serious trouble globally (and certainly here in the USA) for the very reason that ENO is in the precarious state it finds itself.  It’s not relevant!  It could be – if the imperative for the staging of opera was turned on its head – but it’s not, so it is increasingly sidelined by a disinterested and uneducated public.

If you can’t face that truth, it doesn’t matter what “open conversations” are had about persuading audiences to turn off Netflix or, God forbid, attempt a persuasive argument about the “necessity of experiencing opera”.  It’s merely rhetoric.  No-one actually believes it, and if you adopt such a strategy for overcoming the immense and real imposts as a literal means in safeguarding Opera as an art form, you are unquestionably doomed.

Have you caught onto what I see as very concerning yet?

Continue Reading →

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